Since 2001, Terada Soichi has been the enigmatic architect behind Omodaka, a potent mixture of traditional Japanese folk music and video game consoles, realized live in the form of spectacular multimedia performances. Hailing from Tokyo, he has traveled to New York to perform at Blip Festival, the annual celebration of sights and sounds made using antiquated consoles and computers. But Omodaka provides an experience very different from most other acts in chip music, the international scene that the festival has featured for six years running.
Video: Dean Putney
Terada emerged from backstage to greet a fast-expanding crowd of smiling faces, still donning his mask and traditional white-and-crimson kimono. The getup is not without purpose: Omodaka performances unfold like a form of futuristic Japanese theater, mixing the synthesized sounds of game systems with live projections, choreography, audience participation, and the ethereal crooning of a computerized singer trapped inside of a video monitor.
Finding a break amid the flood of elated fans, it was a bit surreal to finally corral the masked performer for an impromptu interview outside of the Gramercy Theater in Manhattan. Along with other chip scene stand-bys like Bit Shifter and Covox, Omodaka was one of the first contemporary chip musicians I had ever been exposed to.
"When I was a child, I was so interested in traditional Japanese music," Terada explains. "But I can't say [that] to my friends, because most Japanese [aren't] interested in Japanese traditional songs." The Enka music from which he borrows — a bluesy and emotional style of ballad that dates back to the Meiji era of the 19th Century — enjoyed a revival in Japan in the 1960's and 70's, but quickly fell back into obscurity.
Video: Dean Putney
Still, Terada hopes his musical fusion will help expose more people around the world to the style. His performances do exactly that, but not by hunching over a table loaded with gear, as many electronic musicians tend to do. Instead, Omodaka puts everything out in the open, beginning with an introduction of his fellow "bandmates" (a Nintendo DS, a PSP, and a Korg Kaossilator, among others), occasionally handing out his instruments to the crowd, and making sure to keep his manipulations in plain sight of the audience throughout. "Without that," he says modestly, "the audience may not understand what I am doing."
As for his choice in equipment, Terada says he became interested in using game consoles and incorporating their distinctive sound after hearing another prominent Japanese chiptune act, YMCK. "I was shocked. I experienced many Japanese chiptune artists," he recalls, "so I began to put the 8-bit tone into my songs."
Terada wasn't shy about praising some of his fellow Blip Fest artists either: Dan Behrens, a friend of mine who performed the next night as Danimal Cannon, told me that Terada approached him enthusiastically asking if he would come play in Tokyo — a cross-discipline appreciation common among the festival's international participants, who work within an incredibly wide variety of genres and styles despite the limited hardware being used.
We'll have more on Blip Festival soon. For now, check below for some photos from Omodaka's performance.
Special thanks to Dean Putney for contributing the above footage.